From Korea to the West
Warrior Draft Report
Now that Korea’s HGC is upon us, Heroes of the Storm fans can easily look at the regional metagames side by side for the first time without the context of an international event. With two weeks of western games played before the start of the eastern season, the distinctiveness of the Korean drafts stood out immediately, and both North American and European teams quickly began following suit.
Drafts in every region have revolved largely around Malfurion, Tassadar, and Ragnaros, but the Warrior role has been most indicative of the evolving global meta. Thanks to the Valeera patch hitting HGC just after Korea’s Week 1, the influence of KR teams on western drafts can be measured easily on sites like Master League. The western meta shifted dramatically, but the Korean one remained nearly unchanged, revealing that Korean strategy shifts western mindsets more than any patch notes ever could. A close look at the Warrior play in Korea gives a good look at to what can be expected at the Western Clash, and its continuing shifts throughout the season will inevitably ripple westward.
We got our first look at a Korean-played Varian in the Gold Club World Championship, but it didn't look good. Picked once each by both MVP teams (and once by NA’s Astral Authority), Varian came out of the GCWC with a crushing 0% win rate. Since then, Varian’s warrior-leaning Taunt build has received significant buffs which gave him more pick potential and crowd control along with a massive boost to his survivability. But before being able to select his role at level 10, the hero can still be an early game liability.
HGC has been the grounds for Varian to redeem himself, and it seems the Koreans have found the tool to overcome his inherent weakness: global mobility. While Falstad and Dehaka are valued in all regions, this weekend has shown that coupling their experience soak with Varian can propel the High King to a place where his power can shine. Indeed, Varian was highly contested in almost every Korean draft the first weekend with a 64% participation rate (compared with a paltry 24% in both western regions combined); he lost every match without a global to compensate for his weaknesses.
North American players noticed. Week 1 of Korea was Week 3 for NA, and a few surprise Varian picks snuck in at the end. Now in the following week, Varian’s participation rate shot up to 90% in North America, only missing two games throughout the whole weekend. NA has been quick to embrace King Varian’s reign, with his win rate hovering at about 50% there. EU has been slower to adjust. Varian’s 69% participation in Europe would seem high if it weren’t for the other two regions; the region dragged Varian’s total global involvement since the Valeera patch down to a “mere” 85%. But it’s worth noting that the EU teams do value Varian—namely Misfits and Fnatic—are the highest tier in the region.
During Week 2 in Korea, Varian became a true staple. Once again, Varian only missed a single game all weekend, and his 70% win rate is even more meaningful due to the greater total games in Week 2. With his own statistics impacting every other Warrior, Varian takes the throne as unquestionably the best tank in the game.
The Hierarch of the Daelaam sits directly opposite the King of Stormwind. A near permanent fixture in North America’s draft, Artanis had a staggering 87% participation rate, with his first-wave picks outnumbered only by his first-wave bans. Though valued less in Europe, it was obvious that NA teams had an outright fear of the Phase Prism. It seemed his time had come.
But in Korea, Artanis has been almost entirely irrelevant, thrown in at the end of drafts and losing every game he was picked in. GG’s Good showed against Mighty that Prism can still do some work, but Korean players seemed able to avoid the game-altering swaps that left the west so fazed.
The example’s been taken to heart. Now that NA is putting priority on Varian, there’s no room for Artanis among all the draft considerations. Banned only once, Artanis saw a few last picks that didn’t pay off now that his former threat now empty. Artanis had only a single pick in Korea and was utterly ignored in Europe during Week 2. In the Valeera patch, he had a 0% win rate in Korea and Europe and was only able to pick up one win in the region that once prized him.
With every tool you could want in a tank, it’s no surprise that E.T.C.’s world tour has drawn the eyes of every region. What is notable about his showing in the Korean side of HGC is a heavier emphasis on Stage Dive. Though both of E.T.C.’s Heroic options see play in all metas, the default assumption of Stage Dive in the draft means we’ve seen significantly lower reliance on Brightwing for a global in Korea, which opens up the draft for E.T.C. to share the stage with Kharazim or Dehaka. As the first week of KR closed, E.T.C.’s position at the top of the Warrior charts seemed secure, but Varian stole the show.
As the clear second choice, E.T.C.’s participation rate hasn’t changed, but his win rate plummeted from a respectable 60% in Week 1 all the way down to 19% in Week 2. The has-been mindset might just be affecting performance too, as the weekend saw a spike in panicked Mosh Pits that hit zero targets, even from players like Noblesse.
Korean emphasis on Zarya dwarfs even NA’s Artanis obsession. Banned in 23 out of the 34 total games played in the first week, every single team in Korea has placed a huge value on her. Despite this, her win rate in the rare games she made it through the ban phase was quite low. That’s not surprising in itself; teams only got to pick Zarya when their opponents allowed it, making her a desperate grab by weaker teams trying to take on the more confident ones in a week filled with clean sweeps.
Things looked better in Week 2. L5 and Tempest target banned Zeratul against Miracle’s dami, leaving Zarya open to be picked by all three power teams throughout both series.Teams lower in the standings looked to ban the now-dominant Varian. Though Zarya’s persistent lock on the first wave ban only allowed her be played in eight games, she won five of them and gave a boost to a floundering Tyrael in the process.
Just as Varian quickly caught on in North America, Europe gravitated to Zarya as soon as they got a look at the Korean meta. Zarya saw more games in EU Week 3 than she had in in the first two combined. Those games might be at an end, though, as the continued shift of the EU meta now bans her more often. With her participation at a respectable 33%, Zarya only got to actually play in a couple of game this week. Playing Ducks tried her out, notably alongside Varian, but not even that duo could narrow the gap between them and Dignitas. Playing Ducks later beat Synergy’s Zarya and left her with two losses on the board for Week 4. Still, it’s clear that EU has gotten on board the Gain Train; we just need to see if North America will join them before the Western Clash.
Globals remain an essential part of any team comp, and Dehaka’s place in the meta is stable. His mobility, survivability, and crowd control give him perfect synergy with both Varian and E.T.C., and the same qualities help him survive against them on enemy teams. With the closeness of some Korean matchups, and one-sidedness of some others, teams are living or dying on the quality of their Dehaka play.
Perhaps a bit undervalued in Week 1, Dehaka won 6 out of the 10 games he was played, leading to an increased participation and corresponding drop in win rate in Week 2. Combining both weeks, Dehaka lurks at an average of 45% participation and 47% win rate in Korea. Those numbers are perfect matches for his overall HGC season globally, so even as the western regions mold to the Korean Warrior meta, Dehaka will also adapt accordingly.
In Week 1, it looked as though Tyrael may have fallen from grace. In the past, he’d been ignored by the west, only recognized by Chinese and Korean players with the mechanical skill to do him justice. But while European players like Breez or JayPL have been making critical Sanctification or Holy Ground plays, Tyrael’s position in Korea right now seems unclear. It isn’t that the players have gotten worse, by any means, but he’s become too safe and standard a pick.
So far in Korea’s HGC, Tyrael has largely become an extra body in teamfights or a safe solo laner when the team has no other option. His presence is something like a Thrall: expected but not feared. He still slots comfortably into most compositions, but he isn’t being drafted with any particular threat in mind. Even in the Taunt-and-lockdown meta, Sanctification’s 80 second cooldown does not match up well against the incredibly low cooldowns of Taunt and Warbringer. With the utter dominance of Varian in the region, the main tank players have their positions filled, so Tyrael has to be put in the hands of the melee flex role to varying effect. Out of 19 games played in Korea so far, Tyrael was solo warrior in only three of them.
Had it not been for last day picks by L5’s Jeongha and MVP Miracle’s dami, Tyrael would have closed out Week 1 with less than a third of his games won. Week 2 still put him off to a poor start, but once again the end of the week put him in the hands of Tempest, L5, and MVP Black. That, together with the more even series throughout the week, let Tyrael win a decent amount, leaving his total win rate for the two weeks combined at a very even 52%.